Catallaxy Files

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    Wednesday, March 10, 2004
    Albrechtsen has another revelation
    In today's Australian, Janet Albrechtsen complains that the new movie 'Thirteen' does not portray the behavious of normal teenagers. She is afraid that portrayals of such extreme cases may end up 'defining deviancy down':

    Thirteen is presented as a universal story of how pop culture creates a been-there, done-that generation, "a revealing insight into urban adolescence 2004", says the marketing blurb, "a provocative portrait of what teens today are thinking, doing, feeling and going through. There have always been teenagers at the extreme of culture but now the extremes have become the norm."

    That's the hype. In fact, far from offering therapy, Thirteen only adds to the ambiguous messages thrust upon the present generation of young girls. It presents a throw your hands in the air message of defeat, suggesting parents have little hope against a pervasive, narcissistic pop culture. It is a big-screen depiction of a new blame game where it's easier to blame this nebulous thing called culture, allowing parents to opt out of the hard part of parenting ...

    Thirteen is just the latest cultural grenade trying to define deviancy down, smudging the edges of right and wrong, presenting abnormal behaviour as the norm. One way to combat this unfortunate trend is for parents to be parents. That way, girls can be girls.

    Er, no, wait a minute, it's about how this movie's publicity claim that the movie is depicting the conduct depicted as the norm. And somehow parents will get misled that this is the norm. And then they'll all give up parenting, being so misled by the movie's publicity that they have little hope against pervasive pop culture. Or something like that. But wait a minute - if this movie is bad because it may make parents more fatalistic about their teens' conduct then doesn't this also apply to Janet's constant jeremiads about the skies falling? Ban Janet Albrechtsen - she's contributing to this fatalistic attitude among parents that their kids are out of control because the culture is defining deviancy down. Or something like that.

    What is it about conservatives and art? Why does The Australian continue to pay this numbskull to write?
    Scholarships for men

    I'm inclined to agree with Jenny Macklin that letting schools give males preferential treatment for teacher training scholarships won't 'fix' the problem of too few men in the teaching profession. As I argue in the Higher Education Supplement today (article not on-line) there are good reasons why men tend not to choose teaching, among them low pay and a weaker interest in people-oriented professions.

    I disagree, however, with her objection to changing anti-discrimination law to allow such preferential treatment. Even if it makes only a marginal difference (as is likely), the problems in boys education that it is aimed at are so serious that it should be ok for schools to at least experiment with proposals which might improve things. The law as it stands is an example of what feminists call indirect discrimination. While on its surface neutral between the sexes, the law in fact disadvantages boys who lack appropriate male role models. (Much later on, in a nice little irony, it will disadvantage university-qualified career women, when they find that there are too few suitable men for them to marry.)

    My colleague Jennifer Buckingham has been prominent in the debate on boys' education, and for those readers living in Melbourne she is giving a lecture next Thursday, 18 March.

    Tuesday, March 09, 2004
    What happened to Liberal federalists?

    In the old days, the Liberal Party was the party of federalism, but no longer it seems. Education Minister Brendan Nelson has been pushing us in the direction of a national curriculum. Now the Prime Minister may intervene to stop the ACT introducing a bill of rights, gay marriage and gay adoption.

    A decade ago, coinciding with the Liberal Party's 50th anniversary, I wrote a long overview of the party's ideology (a descendant of that paper is a chapter in The Politics of Australian Society.) One thing I noticed then was that while there were plenty of positive references to states' rights and the federal system in the Liberal literature, there was very little theoretical material on why federalism was a good idea. The weakness of that intellectual tradition within the Party is evident in the ideas coming from the federal government, and the lack of opposition to them on federal principles.

    One reason for federalism is to allow different value systems to operate in different areas. The Prime Minister thinks gay marriage is a bad idea, and a lot of other people do not. Why do we have to settle this on a national basis? Letting the ACT go ahead lets the people who want gay marriage have their opportunity, while leaving the status quo elsewhere. If it turns out to have unforseen negative consequences, then the rest of Australia will learn from that, and the damage will be restricted to a small proportion of the population. The same considerations apply to national curriculum. As the Kevin Donnelly article linked to above explains, the danger in a national curriculum is that the same bad curriculum infects the entire country, rather than just one or a limited number of jurisdictions.

    Personally, I have mixed views about the ACT proposal, believing that gay marriage is probably a good idea, and that a bill of rights is probably a bad idea. Canberra, with the second smallest population of any state or territory, seems like the ideal place to put these things into practice and see what happens. Somehow, though, I doubt many of my fellow Liberals will support me on this one.




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